COMMONS

Government must match rhetoric on workplace equality with action

20 June 2013

In a Report published today, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee calls on the Government to do more to tackle female under-representation in certain sectors of the economy.  As well as addressing the worrying lack of comprehensive careers advice, the Government should set targets for encouraging women into apprenticeship sectors where they are currently under-represented, says the Report.  The Committee also urges the Government to take concerted action to improve female representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Employees should be entitled to ask for flexible working from the outset, not only after they have been in a job for six months, says the Report.  Additionally, the Government should establish a voluntary Code of Practice to highlight best practice in the provision of quality part-time and flexible working, and must dispel the myth that any type of flexible working is problematic and cannot work. 

The Report also urges the Government to reconsider its decisions to introduce fees for pregnancy discrimination cases, and to ‘call time’ on the undertaking of Equality Impact Assessments.  It further recommends that the questionnaire procedures in discrimination cases and the Public Sector Equality Duty should be retained in their current forms.  The Committee notes that Government policy in these areas runs counter to its professed commitment to equality.

Committee Chair

Commenting on the Report, Adrian Bailey MP, Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, said:

"Four decades since the Equal Pay Act, we still do not have full workplace equality.  We cannot wait another 40 years.

Comprising over half the population, significant public funds are invested in women.  Ensuring they reach their full potential is therefore as much an economic argument as one about equality.

At the heart of the matter is the need for cultural change.  Without this we address symptoms rather than causes.

The early influences children are exposed to are crucial in informing them about career opportunities.  As such, the current absence of comprehensive careers advice is a matter of deep concern.  The Government must develop an enhanced careers strategy, with careers advice fully incorporated in the work of both primary and secondary schools.

The Government has demonstrated a welcome commitment to improving the representation of women on boards.  It must now show the same commitment to addressing their under-representation in certain sectors of the economy.  This should include a willingness to set targets and, if necessary, to regulate.

Flexible working is not a women’s issue; it affects all employees with caring responsibilities.  We must dispel the myth that it is problematic and cannot work.

The Public Sector Equality Duty is a useful tool in achieving workplace equality.  It should be retained in its current form.  Far from comprising an unnecessary burden, good employment practices are good for business.

The Government’s stated commitment to workplace equality is welcome.  Its actions at times, however, not only fail to live up to the rhetoric, but stand in direct contradiction to it. 

Far from reducing workplace inequality, introducing fees for pregnancy discrimination cases, calling time on Equality Impact Assessments, and repealing provisions for the questionnaire procedure in discrimination cases, all risk exacerbating it." 

Recommendations

The Report also calls on the Government to:

  • Introduce regulations under section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 to require large private sector employers to undertake equal pay audits.  The EHRC should publish details of those businesses that are non-compliant   [para 63 & 65]
  • To set out clear figures, and a timescale, to outline to businesses what will be done if targets for increasing the number of women on boards are not achieved.  [para 140] 

Further information

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